How the government’s spring 2023 budget will impact disabled people

Sarah, who leads on Sense’s work with policymakers to make sure disabled people are heard, explains what the government announced today and how it will impact disabled people.

Today, 15 March, the chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced his latest budget. 

Together with the rest of Sense’s policy and research team, I spent my lunch time glued to the screen to find out what was on offer. 

We were disappointed to find that Hunt’s announcements won’t offer much comfort to the millions of disabled households across the country struggling with the cost of living crisis.

In this budget, one of the things that government is focusing on is “getting more disabled people into work”.

We welcome some of the measures they’ve announced.

But we have a lot of unanswered questions. And we know that unanswered questions can create real anxiety for disabled people who are unsure how things will affect them. 

If you’ve been left scratching your head, here’s a quick guide to what’s been announced today (and what we think about it). 

The Energy Price Guarantee is being extended

The Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) will remain in place at its current level until the end of June. 

We joined the campaign led by Martin Lewis on this issue. It is positive that the government has listened, and the EPG will stay in place.

But the EPG caps the price per unit of energy used – it is not an overall cap on how much people can pay. People who use more energy still pay more. 

So, the decision to extend the EPG will do little to ease the pressure on disabled households struggling to cope.

Disabled households need dedicated support to cover the unavoidable costs they face running specialist equipment such as breathing machines, feeding machines and powered wheelchairs.

This is why we are continuing to call for a social tariff for disabled people. 

The Work Capabilities Assessment is being scrapped

The Work Capabilities Assessment (WCA) decides whether a disabled person is required to look for work. The chancellor announced today that it is being scrapped. 

Many people we support have had a negative experience of this assessment. We welcome reforming it – however, we need more detail on how this will be done. 

The decision to reconsider the WCA is long overdue. Assessments often fail to provide a true reflection of an individual’s capabilities or limitations and the experience is stressful, and at times, traumatic.

But getting rid of it alone won’t fix a broken system. We need reform and a culture shift. 

This change is part of the government’s new health and disability white paper, which is all about changes to the support that the government gives disabled people. We’re digging into the detail as I type.

Universal Support is being launched to support disabled people into work

This is a new programme to support disabled people and those with long-term health conditions into work. It will provide support for up to 50,000 people. 

We have been calling for more support for disabled people into employment, and so this could be positive. However, we also need more detail on how it will be implemented.

Personalised employment support programmes that are tailored for disabled people can help identify the barriers, and better support people into the job market. 

Ultimately, people must be supported and not penalised. We hope that the newly announced Universal Support programme will take steps to achieve this.

What else has been announced?

  • Benefits will increase in line with inflation in April, which we already knew about.
  • The Department for Education will invest a further £3 million over the next two years to support young people with special educational needs (SEN) into employment. 
  • Prepayment energy tariffs will be brought in line with direct debit tariffs, so that people on prepayment meters aren’t having to pay much higher rates for their energy. This is positive news, as many disabled people are less economically secure and have prepayment meters.
  • The Energy Bills Discount Scheme will continue, offering businesses and non-domestic energy users a discount on bills until 31 March 2024.
  • £100 million of support will be offered to charities and community organisations in England.  

These are welcome announcements, but the government must still do more

Although many of today’s announcements have the potential to be positive for disabled people, the government needs to make the system fairer today and not in several years’ time.

We need new systems that disabled people themselves have designed. 

These new systems must put the emphasis on what people can do with the right support, and not lead them to being pressured into work when it’s not right for them.